KAMLOOPS, B.C. -- A stolen deuce in the ninth end was the back-breaker for Saskatchewan Tuesday night at the Canadian men's curling championship, as Alberta claimed a share of the lead going into the home stretch.
But Saskatchewan (4-2) skip Steve Laycock says they had no one to blame but themselves at the Tim Hortons Brier.
"Odds were still stacked against us even tied up coming home," he said after losing 8-6.
"The real problem was we had lots of chances in that ninth end to set up a two and just heavy on a few hit and rolls and taps and stuff."
Until then it had been a horse race, although Laycock was clearly the underdog.
"We expected a close game all the way," said Koe, who advanced to 6-1 along with John Morris of B.C. "I was a little surprised with that steal of two in nine."
Perhaps he shouldn't be, since he's at the top of the list when it comes to shotmaking by skips at this event, although Brier rookie Greg Balsdon of Ontario sits just below him with the same overall percentage of 86.
Balsdon's numbers got a big boost Tuesday night
Eddie Mackenzie from Prince Edward Island (3-4) didn't bother to throw his last rock in the eighth end as he dropped 8-3 to Ontario (4-2).
Balsdon is still very much in the hunt but knows he has his toughest games ahead.
"We've got a tough stretch coming up," he said.
"We've got Johnny Mo (Morris), Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba our next four games. If we could even split those games and end up 6-4 going into the last draw I think we'd take it."
Jean-Michel Menard of Quebec (3-3) was down early, came back and forced an extra end, but still lost 10-8 to James Grattan of New Brunswick (2-5).
Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories-Yukon (2-4) defeated winless Jamie Murphy of Nova Scotia 7-4.
Laycock says they'd be satisfied just to know they're in the playoffs, but they're not giving up hope of finishing in the top group.
"We know we can beat these teams when it comes crunch time, we've just got to play better than we did tonight."
Koe says it would be nice to stay on top of the leader board instead of having to work his way into the final through the 3-4 game.
"I'm not too worried about who we're tied with at the top as long as you keep going and start looking at who plays who and probably where you're at Thursday."
Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton was another favourite heading into the Brier and he recovered from a 9-7 loss in the morning Tuesday to steal one in the 10th and beat Nova Scotia 8-6 in the afternoon.
But a clutch shot through a narrow port even had his own team covering their eyes. Nova Scotia skip Murphy was light on his last-rock draw attempt to force an extra end.
The Manitoba skip agrees he and third John Mead haven't been as sharp as they need to be.
"Both John and I need to make better shots," Stoughton agreed. "We've just got to clean up the little mistakes."
He says their draw weight is good but their hits and peels are a little off.
"We're really close and we're working hard."
Newfoundland and Labrador's Brad Gushue retained at least faint hope of making the playoffs with an 8-5 win over Grattan.
But after dropping a morning game 7-6 to Saskatchewan, the 2006 Olympic champion said there is no room left for more losses if they want to stay alive.
"Yeah, that fourth loss this morning was a punch in your gut," said Gushue.
"You know your back's against the wall and you can't afford to lose any more. And it's not only winning for more in the round robin, it's probably winning a tiebreaker, the 3-4 game, semifinal and final against some world-class teams."
The odds are long and it may not be entirely up to him, he admits.
"I've seen 7-4 get in the playoffs, I've seen 6-5 get in the playoffs. But most of the time it probably doesn't. So you're going to need some help."